January 15, 2010

Catching Up With Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 7:13 pm

Disgaea 2 - Dark Hero Days
Many moons ago, or last September, Disgaea 2 made the move over to the PSP, at which time I had every intention of reviewing the game. I remember being in a state I’ll call endless rush review mode, which I wouldn’t recommend not only because it stretches the limits of one’s sanity, but also because it opens a dark dimension where every game can be condensed into a few paragraphs of cohesion and then be done with – not a fun place to be for the writer, the reader, and more importantly for the gamer.

As it turns out that review never came together anyway, mostly because trying to take it all in and sum the experience up with some clever lines made me cry. And though that sounds like a bad thing, it really has been good for me and my relationship with the game.

Disgaea 2 - Dark Hero Days

Visual vanity was the original allure of the title, which looks really slick on the PSP – admittedly most everything looks slick on the PSP. But when you put Disgaea’s characters on a battlescreen and let them do their shtick, you really do get distinct and memorable results.

Said shtick involves quite a bit of comedy through over exaggeration by characters, who convey a surprising amount of emotion with physical stances that add a great deal of humor. It’s easy enough to be charmed by watching a Prinny take a thousand hurried stabs at someone, but there’s also quite a bit of personality character’s achieve with a crossing of arms and a head tilt while delivering a haughty line.

It’s the reason I keep replaying a game like Rhapsody on a regular enough rotation to make it worth the mentioning here.

Disgaea 2 - Dark Hero Days

The reason for my initial tears and frustration is simple – at some point during the aging process I lost whatever stamina one needs to bust through these types of games in a reasonable amount of time. But when I gave up on the idea of accomplishing that, the game remained parked in the UMD slot, and I began returning to it with a more casual approach between playing the download titles that are running me out of memory sticks. It’s probably going to take me five years to get through everything the game has to offer with this approach, but I’m not in any hurry.

Picking up Disgaea 2 is a bit like buying a timeshare in purgatory. But while it requires an awful lot of replay, there’s also enough substance, presented in a very open way to keep me coming back. The game splays itself out like a fat cat sitting upright on the couch.

The bulk of our cat would be the quaint hub world that offers instant access to everything one needs to keep playing, while feeding us a little more in the presentation than the endless menus and lists that are obligatory.

It’s a setup that is easy to fall into, even after a break, creating party characters, changing equipment, stocking up on items, and hitting the road to tackle the endless grind that awaits – the part where I play maps again, and again, and again.

In the hub world I attribute everything I need to do to a character, which is easy enough since they all stand in the same spots with symbols over their heads – but I’m at this point where running around a fully realized city to find specific shops just makes me want to stop playing.

I’m not suggesting every game needs or should do this. If you’re trying to create a fully realized world a hub isn’t really going to do it justice. Disgaea just doesn’t bog me down, which encourages me to jump in and out of the grinding like popping a pill.

Disgaea 2 - Dark Hero Days

The thing is, I end up playing a lot of games simultaneously now, which has done a lot to lessen my ability to stick with an RPG, strategy fueled or otherwise, because so often the finer details and moves are convoluted enough to be forgotten.

Every release has to be grander than the last, striving for theatrical uber-narratives that make it harder to appreciate the smaller details, which has as much to do with the fact that I rush past the roses to keep the narrative flowing as anything.

Disgaea doesn’t lack a narrative direction, but there’s a casual approach that makes it feel much more like “You won’t believe the day I had,” which is a combination of the physical presentation, the way the player accesses the game, and the stories taking place within the game.

Disgaea’s also pretty straight-forward in the way that it gives me a lot of tools and abilities that just make sense, whether it’s tossing characters around the map to reach different zone perks or letting me execute moves in any order I want.

So the game puts it all there, which is convenient, and my approach to playing it becomes a bit like putting small amounts of money in the bank, which doesn’t give me any interest overtime but does let me move the story forward on occasion.

The payoff is entirely personal. I realize that my relationship with these types of games has changed quite a bit since the days where I’d cram them into a week and play until the sun came up at times. So my expectations about narrative in these games might be changing too, and rather than searching for that epic theatrical presentation, I find myself more involved with the titles that still maintain an overarching story, but with the focus more on smaller stories at work within the game, which Disgaea 2 has a reasonably good handle on.

1 Comment »

  1. I loved both Disgaea games and I’ll actually get Disgaea 3 on March… along with pretty much all of the DLC available for it. I’ll probably get Phantom Brave as well to enjoy the extra chapter included on the Wii version.

    NIS definitely knows what it’s doing as far as strategy games (and merchandising the crap out of the characters from said games) so here’s to more games from them…

    Comment by EdEN — January 18, 2010 @ 11:41 am

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